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Discovering Lombok: A beginners guide to losing a German

Five bikes, one accident and a lost German.

30 °C

Last year when I was in Vietnam we did one of the Halong Bay cruises. We’d heard horror stories about the start of these cruises: waiting in Hanoi for three hours, waiting in the port for hours for the boat or getting on the boat to discover a rotten rat infested hulk. Our start was smooth. Too smooth. We were picked up promptly, taken straight to the port and got straight on our boat. The boat was nice, lunch was set on the table and as we stepped aboard the boat was untied and begun to leave the jetty. After all the stories I couldn’t believe it was so smooth. I turned to my sister, “That was way too easy...” And it was. Forty metres from the dock our boat became stuck on a sandbank, where we spent the next hour waiting to be towed. In the end it took a tugboat and another ferry to remove us from the sandbank.

Myself and Cesars departure from Gili Air was similar. We were told there was “usually” an afternoon boat from the island. When we arrived at 1:30 for the 2:00 ferry we were told that the ferry would leave when they got 20 people. “ Ok we might be here a while,” I thought. But no, at 1:55 we were herded onto the tiny boat, the ropes were untied and the boat was pushed into the water. Again I thought to myself “That was too easy...” Then they tried to start the engine. After twenty minutes of languishing 10 metres from shore in the shallows and quite a few tries the engine spluttered to life. Only long enough to propel us another 50 metres out into the depths before dying again. The engine was pulled apart and poked and prodded but to no avail. Eventually another boat came and towed us back to shore before we all jumped ship and the new boat finally ferried us back to Lombok.

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It was there we were reunited with our comrades, our ever resilient “leader” Papa Smurf, Aro and Hakan. Whilst we had been relaxing on the beaches, keeping active with snorkelling and circumnavigating the island, they had been hiking the 3700 metre high volcano of Mt Rinjani. Whilst I would have loved to have done it, it would have only meant one short night on Gili Air. The next day whilst we sat in our beachside bungalow it drizzled all day. Looking across at Lombok all you could see was cloud, no volcano in sight. I was happy to be on the island.

The next day we all hired motorbikes to embark on a five day adventure around the island, sleeping rough and seeing the “real” Lombok. We headed North, the plan (rough as it was) to circumnavigate the island and duck down to the beaches on the southern peninsulas. It was good getting on the bikes again, only my second day on a bike but the feeling was good. Zipping around, darting in and out of the traffic. It was a good route, somewhat easing us into it, starting with relatively quiet roads, and only hitting busy traffic on the last day. The day consisted of more spectacular coastline taking us around the shell of Mt Rinjani which dominates the geography of Northern Lombok. By the afternoon we had ducked inland and reached the town Senaru, the starting point for treks up the volcano and a couple of waterfalls. We made for the waterfalls. All the locals were saying we needed to hire a guide to reach the second waterfall and the swimming hole there. We were sure we could reach it ourselves and started down the hill. The first waterfall was quite small, but pleasant. Set in beautiful tropical rainforest. We then tried to find the second waterfall. As is common in Asia, the whole setup there is designed to keep the guiding business going. The track toes not require a guide at all, but the start is purposely obscured and misinformation common. The waterfall is a half hour walk on a pretty well marked track following an interesting old aquaduct development, the trick is finding the start of the track. And of course any locals you ask will give you wrong information. After heading ½ an hour the wrong way following the aquaduct, which alternated between a surface canal and tunnels through the hill some of the group was getting annoyed we had obviously taken the wrong way. Myself, I was enjoying the walk through beautiful rainforest with nice views down the valley.

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We returned to the first track and myself and Joel investigated a small track of to the side I had noticed on the way to the first waterfall. Around the first corner it opened into an obviously used track following the aquaduct upstream, across an entertaining “bridge,” past a small wier and some huge trees. By then the others had caught us up and after a couple of river crossing we finally reached the 2nd waterfall. During one of these crossings Hakan was taking a video with his ipod when it slipped from his grasp, falling into the river. He managed to grab it just in time before it was swept downstream. Amazingly it still worked, and he now has a rather entertaining video of dropping it into the water. The waterfall was great, a large torrent of water crashing into the valley, creating a nice little swimming hole. The small valley was full of spray from the waterfall and it was surprisingly cold. Still, we couldn’t pass up the option of a swim in such an idyllic location.

Whilst the water was cold the thrill of being in the waterfall was invigorating, with lots of shouting and punching the air ensuing. At one point I went right up close to the pounding water, watching it pour from above. I dove underwater to see the churning white of the cascade underwater. Then I realised the white was getting closer and quickly. I tried to surface but was shocked to discover I right under the cascade, the weight of the water thundering down. I quickly dove back down to escape the force of the assault but the churning water was disorienting, and again I resurfaced under the downpour. A half gasp of air, and after another more considered attempt I escaped the surge. The other guys were cheering, and of course not heeding my warnings both followed my lead heading into the eye of the raging waterfall. Luckily we all lived to tell the tale and left the waterfall feeling very “alive.”

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After stopping for some food, the typical local dish of Ayam Goreng with Nasi (Fried chicken and rice) we made our way back down to the coast. We were a little behind schedule, and arrived after dark. Luckily we found a nice stretch of beach with a little sun shelter where we spent the night. After struggling to create a small campfire and a few packets of biscuits we lay down to sleep. The shelter was quite old, with a few missing planks and the five of us curled up in the remaining area. Between the hard planks, and the cool night air none of us slept well and the next day we were all wondering why we didn’t sleep down on the beach, especially given the amazing starscape with the vivid milky way streaking across the sky. The moon was also spectacular, large and golden leaping skywards from the ocean. We awoke to the sunrise, the bright orange ball of the sun hovering on the horizon, bathing the sky in shades of orange and red.

We quickly jumped on the bikes heading to the next town for some breakfast. We ended up finding a local market, just setting up for the day and enjoying Nasi Campur Ayam (steamed rice, vegies, sambal and chicken) for breakfast in a decidedly Indonesian setting. The first real local market I’d been too in Indonesia. We then belted it down to a small local beach near Lombok harbour. The sun was scorching and the black volcanic sand was hot under foot but the water was nice and refreshing, and crystal clear. It was nice seeing the locals enjoying the day at the beach as well, naked kids and fully clothed adults (being a conservative Muslim area) playing in the water.

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After a swim we found some shade to get some more sleep, though we were kept awake by a group of local teenagers, one guitar and a lot of raucous singing. Our plan was to sleep on a beach on the lower west coast, before the next day heading inland and punching south to the beachside surfing town of Kuta (not at all like the towns namesake on Bali.) Just before the beachside town where we were planning on staying Hakan stopped on the side of the road to reattach his baggage which had fallen off the back off his bike. That put him just behind the group, but far enough to miss the coast road and head inland. Speeding quickly away to try to “catch up” to us. We waited by the coast for a while, sending Cesar to find him. After a while we decided the best course of action was to follow along the main road, and find somewhere inland to sleep as the day was getting on. We eventually found Cesar, slightly shaken after a minor fall caused by slipping baggage and continued on in search of the missing German. Hakan had had a penchant for speed, often taking off in front of the group. So of course when he was left “behind” he pushed pretty hard to “catch up.” We eventually stopped at a crossroads, unsure of which way he would have gone. He had no mobile and darkness was approaching. This was the first time we lost Hakan.

Then suddenly he appeared beside us with a cheeky grin. A lucky break. We started again looking for a place to sleep. We found two options, close by each other. An old overgrown soccer field with comfortable grass to sleep on 50m from the roadside and a building site with some shelter. We chose the soccerfield and that night another amazing starscape greeted us as we drifted into a rough sleep, interrupted by buzzing mosquitoes and the odd pointy tuft of grass poking through our sarong “mattresses.”

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I was awoken in the middle of the night by Aro. “Steve, get up.” I was a little startled but sat up, and surprised to see it was just us at the clearing, and a light rain had begun fall. I asked if the others had left us in the rain, and Aro replied that a bunch of locals had stopped on the road and were hanging around our parked bikes. I looked toward the road and saw the guys heading back towards the clearing. When they returned they said drunk locals were saying our bikes were not safe on the side of the road and that we should move. I was sceptical, but as it had also just started to rain we had to move anyway. Meanwhile the locals had appeared at our clearing, and I was surprised to see knives and machetes around their waists (though it is a very common sight with rural Indonesian farmers.) We got to the bike, quickly left and headed up the road. The locals were behind us for a while, so we continued till they took a side road. We waiting for 15 minutes, to be sure they didn’t see where we ended up, then headed back to our 2nd option, the building site. This actually proved to be more comfortable (even though the rain did not last,) With some shelter and surprisingly soft dirt and gravel underneath.

Again we left early, hitting the road just after sunrise, quickly punching it down to Kuta for breakfast. I was surprised how many tourists were in Kuta. Still a local looking town with cheap places to eat, but there were quite a few guesthouses and touts patrolling the streets. Kuta is on a peninsula and surrounded by some pretty good surf beaches. This of course means the town is full of surfboard wielding Aussies. We had a good day though, cruising the surrounding beaches on our bikes and surveying the spectacular coastal views from a surrounding headland. We had a nice evening, enjoying a couple of beers, meeting a German guy and an American girl, culminating in a nice little campfire on the beach before heading to our first beds for a couple of nights.

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Thorsten , the German guy, who has been studying part of his engineering degree in Jakarta decided to join us for the last two days of our trip. We headed west across the island aiming for the Peninsula that juts out from the Southwest corner of the island. We were planning on stopping at pottery town for a while and were leapfrogging along, asking for directions. Hakan was out front. He stopped with Aro, unsure of where the pottery place was, before taking off at speed ahead. The rest of us stopped a short time later at the pottery place and waited for Hakan to return once he realised he’d gone past it. We were standing on the side of the road when he shot past us in the other direction, completely missing us waving at him. We assumed he would come back when he reached the last place we were all together (just a couple of kms up the road.) He never appeared. This was the 2nd time we lost Hakan.

We sent out search parties in all directions with no avail. Waiting for over an hour. Eventually we reluctantly decided the best course of action was to push on. None of could work out why he hadn’t come back, but decided we would at least find him the next evening back at Sengiggi. As we only had a very rough plan, we all assumed he was lost and there was little chance of finding him. We searched around, found an internet place and left him a couple of messages telling him what we were doing and hit the road again.

The rest of the day we took it easy, keeping it slow and staying as a tight group. The road to the Peninsula was spectacular. Beautiful sweeping coastal roads with hardly any traffic, stunning beaches with only small local villages and soaring inland hills. This was by far the most scenic and fun to ride part of the trip.

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I was completely stunned when we rounded a corner on a tiny road, at a tiny local village 7 hours after we’d lost Hakan to see his smiling face sitting on his bike at the side of the road. It turns out after he’d ridden past us he’d mysteriously gone all the way back to Kuta, before taking the rough coast road towards the Peninsula.

After getting some take-away local food from a small roadside stall we went along rough, rocky, sand and gravel roads to the end of the Peninsula. We made camp on the beach. For the first time on the trip arriving before dark and having time to prepare for a beach campfire. We had a great last evening, now with the six of us sitting by the fire and admiring yet another stunning night sky.

I actually slept pretty well that last night on the beach (despite our 2am move up the beach to escape being washed away by the rising tide.) The last day we retraced our steps back up the stunning Peninsula road and into the Islands main city of Mataram. At one point Thorsten overtook Aro on a gravelly sections of road. I was infront and saw in the rear vision mirror his bike starting to skid and then tip. I screeched to a halt and turned to see if he was ok, only to see that Aro had also gone to ground trying to avoid him in the road. No major injuries were sustained, just a few grazes and a pretty sore foot for Aro. We said goodbye to Thorsten before the city, sending him back to Kuta. It was the first time I’d navigated through an Asian city on a bike and quite enjoyed it, ducking and weaving through the traffic.

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It was kind of sad returning to Sengiggi knowing that again we would have to say our farewells the next day, the Ten well and truly splintering this time. But thats travelling. Time for new experiences and new faces. As usual I’m not sure what my plan is yet (after a brief transit through Bali and Kuala Lumpur), but I am looking forward to punching out on my own again. It’s about time.

Posted by nomadSteve 19:38 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking

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